COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Working with the Columbia Urban League, the Department of Veterans Affairs is training church leaders in South Carolina to help troubled military veterans, particularly those just returning from Afghanistan or Iraq.
"This is so the clergy will be better equipped to recognize the signs and symptoms of combat stress disorder," said Patricia Bradford, one of the program organizers.
The VA is teaching the ministers about the depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder that afflict military veterans and also about how these problems can affect the veterans' families, Bradford said.
"Ministers are on the front lines of their congregations. When a family or a veteran has a problem, often the first place they go is to their minister," Bradford said. "We want to help them be better equipped to deal with this."
Representatives of about 100 churches were asked to participate in an initial seminar. The training could be held in other areas.
A Pentagon study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 35 percent of Iraq veterans received psychological counseling shortly after returning. Earlier research found that about 17 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq had symptoms of post-traumatic stress.